Jimmy O. Yang plays a heavily accented Chinese immigrant on HBO’s start-up comedy “Silicon Valley.” Yang himself immigrated from Hong Kong with his family at a young age, though he doesn’t have an accent. But he knows plenty of people who do, and he’s happy to represent them on TV. In a recent interview with HuffPost, Yang said he based Jian-Yang off of himself when he was younger: “This is me ― a lot of stuff was a parallel to my own life.” He also stressed that Jian-Yang’s accent is not an exaggerated impression, but rather a “very specific Mandarin accent” based on those of his mother and relatives.
Yang questions the thinking espoused by many many Asian-American actors that playing accented characters is always a bad thing. He prefers to humanize immigrant characters with his portrayals.
“I know some actors who will not even audition for a role with an Asian accent. I empathize with that but I completely disagree with that because that’s the same kid who didn’t want to hang out with me in high school or middle school ― that Asian-American kid who didn’t want to hang out with the foreign kid because they think it makes them look bad. I understand the whole constant foreigner stereotype, but for me it’s important to portray immigrant characters like Jian-Yang and Danny Meng with humanity,” Yang said. “It’s maybe a better thought to change the perception of an accent than to avoid it all together. I take offense [when people don’t go for parts with accents] ― it’s like saying, ‘I’m better than my immigrant brother with an accent.'”
Yang will next star in “Crazy Rich Asians,” which is adapted from the bestseller of the same name. The comedy features Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, Ken Jeong, and Awkwafina. You can read the full interview here.